- Published: November 30, 1999
Medications are created to cure a problem or ailment. But what exactly defines a problem? Committing a crime is certainly problematic, but is thinking about committing one just the same? As Francine Russo notes in her article on Time.com “How To Change a Personality,” (1) there are drugs and practices like DBS (deep-brain stimulation) that can alter someone’s personality. Currently, these options are used to treat serious mental illnesses like Parkinson’s disease. But what exactly classifies this disease as serious enough to require DBS and make it acceptable to alter someone’s mind? As time goes on, the lines defining a mental illness blur and it becomes less clear what exactly needs to be diagnosed and treated chemically. As the article describes, “‘Thirty years ago…only seriously depressed people took antidepressants…[now] probably half the people have taken them.”
This ubiquity in drug usage is not so simple. As Russo predicts, some people have more expendable money and would benefit much more from personality-enhancing drugs, thus bringing about an entirely separate issue of equality and balance in society. Can someone better his personality for a price? Another foreseeable issue is analogous to sports stars using steroids and other physically-enhancing illegal drugs. One day, would taking a pill to better your cognition be considered illegal in a test-taking environment? This question may not be as far off into the future as it might seem. According to an article on CNN.com called “Use of brain-boosting drugs reported in survey,” (2) “one in five respondents to a new survey in the journal Nature say they've used drugs to boost their brain power.”
Even more frightening than the potential serious societal class divisions and matters of over dosage, the fact that these drugs and methods could have unknown long term effects is I think the most relevant issue to look at. DBS for example has “underlying principles and mechanisms [that] are still not clear” yet it is used on Parkinson’s patients already (3). Similarly, all of these cognition-enhancing drugs could have side effects that are presently unknown. Altering someone’s brain is not quite the same as altering a body part that can be replaced. Changing a personality could have severe consequences, and if they arise, there is a serious problem because the doctor can’t mend a broken mind that easily.